The opinion of the court was delivered by: Block, District Judge.
Plaintiff Carter Howard ("Howard"), an inmate in a New York State
correctional facility, brings this civil rights action pro se pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1985, alleging that prison officials who
required him to work beyond his physical capabilities violated his
First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He seeks damages and
injunctive relief. Defendants Frank Headly ("Headly"), Daniel Crum
("Crum"), and Kay Fiegl-Bock ("Fiegl-Bock") are employees of the New York
State Department of Corrections ("DOC"). They move pursuant to Rule 12
(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss the complaint
for failure to state a claim, and on qualified immunity grounds. For the
reasons stated below, the Court denies the motion.
In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the
Court's task is "`necessarily a limited one.'" Hamilton Chapter of Alpha
Delta Phi, Inc. v. Hamilton College, 128 F.3d 59, 62 (2d Cir. 1997)
(quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d
90 (1974)). "[I]n ruling on [the] defendant[s'] motion, the court must
accept as true all the factual allegations in the complaint and must draw
all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Id. at 63. In
addition, because Howard is a pro se plaintiff, his pleadings must be
read liberally. See Gomez v. USAA Fed. Savings Bank, 171 F.3d 794, 795
(2d Cir. 1999); see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct.
594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972). The Court should grant such a motion only
if, after viewing the plaintiff's allegations in the most favorable
light, it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of
facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. See
Harris v. City of New York, 186 F.3d 243, 247 (2d Cir. 1999).
Accordingly, the following facts are drawn from Howard's complaint, and
are accepted as true for the purposes of this motion: In 1997, Howard
suffered back injuries while he was incarcerated in the Arthur Kill
Correctional Facility ("Arthur Kill"), operated by DOC in Staten Island,
New York. According to his doctor, Howard's resulting back condition,
including sciatica, prevented him from doing strenuous work. In January
1998, Howard was assigned by the program committee, of which Fiegi-Bock
was the chairperson, to serve as a sanitation worker in the prison.
Howard told Fiegl-Bock of his medical condition, and she advised him that
she would change his assignment if he provided the committee with medical
On January 12, 1998, Howard began his assignment, which was supervised
by Crum, a correctional officer. The following day, Howard obtained a
doctor's not indicating that he had a medical restriction which limited
him to performing light duty tasks. He gave Crum a copy of the note, but
Crum required Howard to continue working. While on sanitation duty, he
was "forced to perform strenuous work tasks every day in pain and agony."
Complaint, Facts, ¶ 5. This work aggravated Howard's
medical conditions, made it "very painful for him to walk," and "caused
pain in his left arm." Complaint, Exhibit C. Howard complained about the
assignment and working conditions to the Arthur Kill grievance
committee, which considered inmates' complaints about prison conditions.
The grievance committee recommended that he appear before the program
committee for reassignment. The complaint does not state whether this
appearance occurred, but, in any event, his work assignment was not
On February 5, 1998, Howard injured his neck, right hand and left
shoulder, and reinjured his back while working on the sanitation crew. He
was sent to the hospital, and ordered by his doctor to use a sling and to
take two weeks bed rest. On February 6, 1998, February 20, 1998, and
March 23, 1998, Howard's doctor issued him "no-work" medical
restrictions. Although Howard presented these restrictions to Crum and
Fiegl-Bock, they required him to continue in the sanitation program. Crum
told him that he was "faking" and that he "didn't want to hear it" when
Howard told him about his medical restrictions. Complaint, ¶ IV, 1,
Facts, ¶ 5. On various days, Howard did not appear for sanitation
duty because he did not wish to perform the painful work.
In mid-March 1998, Crum issued Howard several misbehavior reports
related to his failure to participate in the work program, many of which
were later dismissed by a hearing officer who determined that Howard was
not required to perform the sanitation work because of his medical
restrictions. On March 27, 1998, Howard filed with the DOC Inspector
General a complaint about his work assignment and misbehavior reports.
That same day, Crum issued Howard another misbehavior notice, which was
endorsed by Fiegl-Bock. Howard alleges that Crum and Fiegl-Bock issued
the misbehavior notices in retaliation for his complaints to them, the
grievance committee, and the Inspector General. According to Howard,
Headly — the Arthur Kill Superintendent — failed "to remedy
an egregious wrong after learning of the violations and unlawful conduct
of his subordinates." Complaint, ¶ IV-A, 3.
At some point, Howard also submitted to the Arthur Kill grievance
committee a grievance against Crum alleging retaliation and harassment
based on the same facts alleged in the present complaint. At the time the
complaint was filed, this grievance was still pending. Howard does not
indicate whether he filed grievances against Fiegl-Bock or Headly.
The defendants move to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. However,
in their memorandum of law, they address only the Eighth Amendment
claims, and not the claims based on their alleged retaliation against
Howard, claiming that: 1) the complaint alleges insufficient facts to set
forth a violation of Howard's Eighth Amendment constitutional rights with
regard to his work assignments; 2) defendants are entitled to qualified
immunity with regard to the Eighth Amendment claim; and 3) the complaint
fails to allege that Headly was personally involved in the alleged
violations. Accordingly, the retaliation claim will not be considered a
part of this motion.
I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Howard's complaint describes his efforts to avail himself of the
grievance procedures which were available at Arthur Kill and through
state-wide DOC offices, such as the Office of the Inspector General.
Howard does not, however, describe the remedies available to him, or
whether he pursued those remedies to their full extent. The presence in
the complaint of issues regarding administrative exhaustion are indicia
of circumstances that raise concerns about the Court's subject matter
jurisdiction. Because federal courts are under an independent obligation
to examine their own jurisdiction, see FW/PBS,
Inc. v. City of Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 231, 110 S.Ct. 596, 107 L.Ed.2d 603
(1990), the Court must sua sponte explore allegations that relate to its
subject matter jurisdiction, see ...